Penguins Notebook: Breaking free of trap
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The Penguins spent their Sunday skating and skating, preparing several ways to push through the Tampa Bay Lightning's neutral-zone trap.
"We've got a couple different looks, a couple ways to beat that trap," center Jordan Staal said. "We're mostly trying to get more speed through the middle. And when we chip it in, we'll have a couple guys going, not just one. They have a lot of guys back, so we need people on the puck right away."
The teams' first-round playoff series is tied, 1-1, with Game 3 at 7:38 tonight in Tampa.
Dan Bylsma and the coaching staff invested most of the hour-long practice at Consol Energy Center in rushes up ice, focused on two areas:
• At even-strength, the defensemen or forwards make quick, vertical passes aimed at a high forward. If that forward receives the pass cleanly with room, he keeps it. If not, he chips it.
• On the power play, the staff brought back an old method of gaining the blue line in which the puck carrier curls in the neutral zone, then distributes as necessary.
"In terms of power play, we need to do a better job of our execution on our entries and the decisions that we make to remain in the zone," Bylsma said. "In particular, in the zone, we're talking about the half-wall play."
Alex Kovalev remained on the half-wall for practice, and James Neal, the other winger, was deeper into the corner.
"They're a team that likes to pressure out initially," Bylsma said of the Lightning's penalty-killing approach to the point men. "We need to deal with that pressure, then take opportunity to exploit the space they are creating underneath the pressure. If we do that, we can exploit it and take it to the net with Jordan."
The power play has not exploited much of anything for months, and it is 0 for 13 in the series.
After the Lightning's practice at the Ice Sports Forum in Brandon, Fla., winger Martin St. Louis went back on the ice for an extended session with two of his three young sons. He patiently coached Ryan and Lucas while toddler Mason looked on. He encouraged them, played defense for them to shoot around.
If they are anything like their dad, the boys were absorbing everything.
"I don't want to say he overthinks, but he definitely analyzes every play and he wants to have that edge," Tampa Bay winger Ryan Malone said of St. Louis, who finished second in NHL scoring this season with 99 points.
"He's a very smart player. I've learned so much from him from being here the last three years."
Tampa Bay defenseman Eric Brewer is 32, but he has shown fresh legs in this series in averaging 25 minutes per game and starring in Game 2 with a goal and two assists.
The Penguins have noticed.
"He's a guy who's been around a while, and he's obviously one of their top defensemen," right winger Arron Asham said. "We've just got to wear him down. He's a big guy. We've got to chip the puck behind him, use our bodies on him."
"He might have lost a step, but he's still a strong player," defenseman Brooks Orpik said. "Always tough. Always keeps the play in front of him."
Lightning coach Guy Boucher said Brewer, the captain in St. Louis before a February trade, has a couple of qualities that don't stem from coaching.
"Big guys that are mobile, they're rare and very hard to get around," Boucher said of the 6-foot-3, 220-pounder. "We've got one."
One of the many Lightning players to successfully agitate the Penguins in Game 2 was center Dominic Moore, whose stick can be as nasty as his banter.
"You've got to take it from some of those guys," Orpik said. "Guys like Dominic Moore, we played against him in Montreal last year, and we know what he's all about. You just have to take that and, hopefully, shake his hand at the end of the series."
Bylsma deployed the same forward lines and defense pairings as the first two games, and he offered no hint regarding possible changes for Game 3. ... Center Sidney Crosby did not practice with the team but did some off-ice work beforehand. There was no change in his status. ... With the series shifting to Tampa, Boucher suggested that -- as he did in a 2-1 win against the Penguins March 31 at the St. Pete Times Forum -- he might try to match Vincent Lecavalier's line against Staal's line because both are big centers. ... Boucher said defenseman Randy Jones and forward Marc-Andre Bergeron are close to coming back from injury, but it probably won't be in Game 3.
First Published April 18, 2011 12:00 am